Former Exxon Mobil CEO and Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson blasted the foreign policy of President Barack Obama during the opening statement of his confirmation hearings Wednesday, criticizing everything from “weak” signals being sent to Russia to the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Tillerson, who has had major business dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his tenure at Exxon Mobil, attributed the resurgence of Russia to “the absence of American leadership” under the Obama administration. Tillerson also took on what he views as failures of the current administration, including the so-called “red line” drawn over chemical weapons in Syria and the perceived inability to think like Russia.
Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson recounted a number of foreign policy areas on which he differs with Obama:
We backtracked on commitments we made to allies. We sent weak or mixed signals with red lines that turned into green lights. We did not recognize that Russia does not think like we do. Words alone do not sweep away an uneven and at times contentious history between our two nations. But we need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambitions so we know how to chart our own course.
But Tillerson seemed open to possible negotiations with the Kremlin, provided there is a “common interest.”
We ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.
Tillerson later weighed in on the Obama administration restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba after roughly half a century. Citing Cuba’s record of human rights abuses, Tillerson blasted Obama for not including any “significant concessions” in its decision to end the Cuban embargo.
“We have not held them accountable for their conduct,” Tillerson said of Cuba. “Their leaders received much, while their people received little.”